Texas A&M-Alabama Preview

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Texas A&M has an opportunity to get back into first place in the SEC if it can break out of its funk this week.

The 15th-ranked Aggies will first have to avoid another road loss Wednesday night against Alabama, which is seeking another win over a Top 25 opponent.

Texas A&M lost its lead in the SEC by dropping three of four and suffered its first home loss Saturday, 81-78 to then-No. 25 South Carolina. The Aggies' other two league defeats came on the road to middle-of-the-pack teams Arkansas and Vanderbilt, sandwiched around a 72-62 victory over then-No. 14 Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 30.

"I don't think it was the game plan or the coaches doing something wrong. It was the players, including myself, not being ready to play well enough," said guard Alex Caruso, who had a season-high 16 points Saturday. "It's up to us to get our motors going and be ready to play every game."

The Aggies (18-5, 7-3) are facing another two games away from home capped by a matchup with SEC-leading LSU on Saturday. Winning each of those contests would push them into at least a tie for first depending in large part how the Tigers fare at South Carolina on Wednesday night.

First, the Aggies will have to avoid becoming Alabama's next upset victim. In their first season under coach Avery Johnson, the Crimson Tide (13-9, 4-6) are 3-2 against ranked opponents after losing 21 straight before his arrival.

They blew out then-No. 19 South Carolina 73-50 in Tuscaloosa in the latest such matchup Jan. 13. That was also Alabama's lone victory in its first six SEC games, but it has won two straight and three of four after topping Missouri 80-71 on Saturday.

Johnson will face a team with which he's well acquainted. His son, Avery Johnson Jr., played 13 games as a freshman for Texas A&M in 2014-15 and is sitting out this season after transferring to Alabama.

"We don't ever take anything for granted. There are no assumptions. We're going to go in there like a clean sheet of paper, like we've never seen them before, even though we spent a year watching them and being behind the scenes," the Crimson Tide coach said. "Junior will give us some information, but at the same time, we've got to execute. They're an outstanding team."

Alabama is hoping to get second-leading scorer Shannon Hale back from a foot injury that's kept him out the past two games. Johnson said Hale could have played 15 minutes Saturday but he chose to let him keep healing.

Hale, averaging 11.3 points, has a combined 36 in his past two games. Riley Norris, averaging 8.6, has totaled 34 in the last two and scored a team-best 18 against Missouri.

Norris, though, had seven points in 45 minutes in Alabama's two wins against Texas A&M last season.

The Crimson Tide, 8-3 at home, have won in four of the Aggies' five all-time visits.